The Lerner Foundation was established in memory of Emanuel and Pauline A. Lerner, philanthropists and owners of a successful business in the Washington, D.C. area. Mr. and Mrs. Lerner loved Maine, and they were frequent visitors to the state. The Lerners believed deeply in the importance of equal opportunity and social mobility, and the Foundation, through its grant making activities, is dedicated to furthering opportunity for the citizens of Maine.

Following several years of making grants to a number of diverse organizations throughout Maine, the Foundation Board decided in February 2015 to suspend grant making for a time to re-examine the emphases and focus of the Foundation’s activity.

In early 2016, following that year-long reflection, research and planning period, the Lerner Foundation announced its decision to direct most of its resources to raise and sustain the aspirations of middle school students in rural Maine. 

In April 2017, the Lerner Foundation announced the Aspirations Incubator Program, a six-year, $7 million mentoring-based initiative aimed at raising and sustaining the aspirations of middle school and high school students in rural Maine communities and small cities.  This initiative will be the sole focus of the Lerner Foundation's philanthropic activities through 2023.


Erin Cinelli

Executive Director


After growing up in southern Maine and graduating from Middlebury College, Erin served as Executive Director of the Spannocchia Foundation for 12 years, supporting an education center and organic farm in Tuscany, and splitting her time between Italy and Maine. Since 2013, she has been the Executive Director of the Emanuel and Pauline A. Lerner Foundation, based in Portland, Maine. The Lerner Foundation recently launched a six-year initiative to raise the post-secondary education aspirations of middle school students growing up in rural Maine communities. She also serves as a grantmaking advisor with the Rocking Moon Foundation, based in Washington, DC and midcoast Maine. Erin earned a Masters of Public Policy and Management from the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine in 2005, is a 2014 graduate of the Exponent Philanthropy Next Gen Fellows program, and serves as Vice Chair of the Maine Philanthropy Center board. Erin and her husband Ben co-own Farmers’ Gate Market in Wales, ME and The Farm Stand in South Portland, purveyors of local, pasture-raised meats and sustainably-grown produce from a network of farms in central and southern Maine. They have two young children, ages eight and four.


Don Carpenter

Senior Program Officer

Don-Carpenter-1.jpgIn 2016, Don concluded a 17-year career as the Executive Director of Trekkers, Inc. – an outdoor based mentoring program in mid-coast Maine that connects young people with caring adults through travel, experiential learning and community service. Don holds a Master of Science degree in environmental education from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, and with over twenty-six years of experience working with young people, he has had a hand in the creation and implementation of many unique youth development models both locally and nationally, including Trekkers, Inc. Don’s passion for young people and his skill in designing proven youth development models have taken him to the truculent streets of Pittsburgh, PA and Camden, NJ, to the turquoise seas of the Eastern and Western Caribbean, and over interstates, mountain ranges, rivers and bio-regions throughout the United States. Don is a visionary and cause-driven leader who believes that programs, institutions, and companies don’t change lives. Rather, the relationships built within those structures do. Holding true to that belief, Don has dedicated his life to the business of relationship building through creating and delivering innovative student-centered youth development models that empower young people to seek higher aspirations. Don can be described as having an engaging and optimistic personality with an entrepreneurial spirit. He lives on the St. George peninsula in mid-coast Maine with his wife and three wonderful step-children.


Caitlin Gilmet

Communications Director

Emily-Cramer.jpegCaitlin has more than fifteen years of experience in education and philanthropy advancement, including work with The Lawlor Group, a national education marketing firm, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis. She has also served as a college admission counselor, focused on immigrant/refugee and rural/underserved student recruitment, and as the development director at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland. Caitlin grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and earned a BFA in English from Kalamazoo College, with additional graduate study in Creative Nonfiction at Hamline University in Minnesota. She has volunteered with the Portland Mentoring Alliance since 2013 and served as a college coach with Peer Forward, a national college prep nonprofit, since 2008. Caitlin also contributes to Down East Magazine, and she operates Commonsense College Essays, a writing consultation service. She lives in Portland with her husband, Steve, and their baby, Thomas.

Board of Directors

Eliot R. Cutler, President

Victoria Bonebakker

Melanie S. Cutler, MD

William H. Foster, Ph.D.

Susan C. Ruch

Justin Schair


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